Ocimum basilicum is a culinary herb of the family Lamiaceae (mints). Sweet basil is native to tropical regions from central Africa to Southeast Asia. It is a tender plant, and is used in cuisines worldwide.
There are many rituals and beliefs associated with basil. Basil is sometimes referred to in French as "l'herbe royale" ('the royal herb'), while Jewish folklore suggests it adds strength while fasting. In Portugal, dwarf bush basil is traditionally presented in a pot, together with a poem and a paper carnation, to a sweetheart, on the religious holidays of John the Baptist (see Saint John's Eve § Portugal) and Saint Anthony of Padua. Conversely, basil represented hatred in ancient Greece.
Holy basil, also called tulsi, is highly revered in Hinduism. Basil has religious significance in the Greek Orthodox Church, where it is used to sprinkle holy water. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church and Romanian Orthodox Church use basil (Bulgarian: босилек, bosilek; Macedonian: босилек, bosilek) to prepare holy water and pots of basil are often placed below church altars. Some Greek Orthodox Christians even avoid eating it due to its association with the legend of the Elevation of the Holy Cross.
In Hinduism, basil is placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey.[better source needed] In India,[clarification needed] basil is placed in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God. The ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks believed basil would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on.
In Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th century Decameron, the fifth story of the narrative's fourth day involves a pot of basil as a central plot device. This famous story inspired John Keats to write his 1814 poem "Isabella, or the Pot of Basil", which was in turn the inspiration for two paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: John Everett Millais's Isabella in 1849 and in 1868 the Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt.[